Miracle fruit taste test: berry vs. tablet
Your days of hallucinogenic drug use are behind you, transformed into a more bourgeois appetite for truffle salt and Kobe beef burgers, but still you yearn to push the boundaries of experience, to salt your culinary adventures with a dash of rebellion. For you, there is the miracle berry, a palate-altering fruit that turns users into the epicurean equivalent of Jim Morrison, "flavor-tripping" through nature's kitchen.
A slice of lemon that would normally make your face pucker explodes in a riotous burst of sugar on your tongue; a wedge of grapefruit might as well be a slice of pie; a baby carrot tastes like it's been coated in agave syrup.
Native to West Africa, miracle fruit is a small red berry filled with a protein called miraculin that binds to the taste buds and temporarily rewires how you perceive sour and acidic foods. Food scientists briefly hoped to turn miraculin into a sugar substitute, but a ruling by the FDA in the 1970s nixed that. Since then, miracle berry devotees have huddled in darkened kitchens, sucking citrus wedges and dripping Tabasco onto each other's tongues. Hardcore users are few and far between, but their numbers are growing thanks in large part to a New York Times article last May that busted wide open this seedy subculture. (The 2008 book "The Fruit Hunters" devotes a chapter to the miracle fruit.)
Since then, miracle berries have begun popping up everywhere -- at art gallery openings as well as the Adam Carolla radio show. On March 9, the L.A. Comedy Shorts Festival will kick off with an opening-night flavor-tripping party hosted by Aisha Tyler.
We decided we had to taste them for ourselves and find out if miracle berries really were as miraculous as their name implied. We also wanted to compare and contrast the effects of fresh miracle berries versus miracle berry tablets.
Taste-test parameters: I bought five fresh miracle berries at $5 each from Alex Silber, who runs Papaya Tree Nursery in Granada Hills, where he also grows exotic fruits such as wampi, longan, Tibetan goji berry, drangonfruit and more. I also bought a package of 10 "Miracle Fruit Tablets" manufactured in Taiwan and sold on a variety of websites including Think Geek, where a package of 10 costs $14.99 plus $4.99 shipping and handling, which works out to $2 per tablet.
After recruiting three volunteers, I set up taste tests on successive nights, the first night with fresh miracle berries and the following night with miracle berry tablets. Each night, we laid out the same assortment of foods, including fruits, vegetables, starches, drinks, nuts and more.
Day #1, miracle berry: Place a berry in your mouth. Suck on it. The skin and pulpy interior will easily separate from the pit. Swish the berry pulp in your mouth for about a minute. Spit out the seed.
Day #2, miracle berry tablet: Place a tablet in your mouth. (The Think Geek website recommends half a tablet, but I think it works better with a full tablet.) Suck on it until it dissolves.
The effects of both the berry and the tablet will vary from person to person. One taster felt the berry's effects extremely strongly and felt them for an hour and a half, with residual effects that lasted for two to three more hours. Another taster felt only mild effects, which wore off in less than an hour.
Conclusion #1: The general consensus is that the berry and tablet are equally intense, but the effects of the tablet wear off more quickly than the berry.
Conclusion #2: The best things to eat are acidic and citrus-y foods: lemons, grapefruit, salt and vinegar potato chips. The effects are minimal or nonexistent with foods such as crackers, salami, tea, jam, jalapenos, nuts and avocado. However, trying these foods under the effect of a miracle berry will make you painfully aware of food's texture and mouthfeel. A slice of delicious salami when stripped of its saltiness is merely a gelatinous disc that quickly melts into flavorless goo.
Conclusion #3: What a short, strange trip it’s been.
A sampling of our tasters' responses …
- Kiwi: "Like a weird blueberry coated in sugar." "Great! Only moderately tart."
- Grapefruit: "Perfectly sweet and intense." "So sweet you can eat the rind like it's candy."
- Lemon: "It's like my tart/sour taste buds are totally blocked and all I can taste is delicious, puckery sweetness." "AMAZING. Like it's been drenched in sugar."
- Salted lemon: "The salt makes the lemon even sweeter!"
- Tangerine: "Cloyingly sweet and syrupy." "Dull candied orange and watery."
- Strawberry: "Like eating strawberry jam."
- Persimmon: "Sweet mush." "Sugary goop."
- Honeydew: "Disappointingly like honey dew." "Exactly the same."
- White onion: "Sweet with an odd spiciness." "No spice." "Spice and sharpness remain but no onion flavor."
- Avocado: "Bitter but mostly the same as a regular avocado." "Hints at the flavor then takes it away."
- Jalapeno: "Still hot but without any flavor."
- Baby carrot sticks: "Removed the sweetness; tastes watery."
- Vodka: "Danger! Do not attempt." "Like rubbing alcohol." " Awful cleaning fluid."
- Organic Great Scot Pale Ale: "Very sweet. There is no hops. This is no longer a pale ale."
- Coffee: "No change." "Same as regular coffee but less sour."
- Darjeeling tea: "I'm just tasting the tea without any astringent quality." "Super bland"
Starch & meat
- French bread: "Exactly the same."
- Cracked-pepper crackers: "Less salty, less peppery. Otherwise the same." "The texture feels heavy -- no flavor."
- Salami: "Cuts all the salt."
- Honey: "Insanely sweet. A single drop tastes like a mouthful." "Unbearably sweet down through my chest and stomach."
- Peanut butter (creamy, salted, unsweetened): "Tinny and high with weird acidic notes."
- Linn's ollalieberry jam: "Lighter, less blackberry flavor." "Sickly sweet." "Minus the blackberry flavor."
- Dark chocolate (66%): "Less bitter but also less chocolate-y." "Bitter undertone is gone."
- Toasted pine nuts: "Like eating a candle." "Slightly rancid."
-- Elina Shatkin
Photos: All miracle fruit pictures by Alex Silber. All miracle fruit tablet pictures by Rob Takata / For The Times